‘Our cash flow is negative every month’: Vancouver Island airports struggle as airlines make cuts

Watch Island airports say they are unaffected by recent Air Canada's route cancellations, but may teeter towards layoffs with any more reductions.

As international travel rules ramp up, and COVID-19 cases in our country keep rising, Canada’s biggest airline is making cuts.

Air Canada is slashing flight capacity by an additional 25 per cent and cutting 1,700 jobs — a result they say is due to mandatory COVID-19 tests for all incoming international passengers.

“I cannot remember a company that is essentially downsized by 80 per cent. For a company to reduce by that magnitude is just it’s unprecedented,” said Ian Lee, an associate professor at Carleton University.

The hit to business is being felt on routes in Atlantic Canada, Yellowknife, and B.C. towns like Prince Rupert and Kamloops.

At the biggest airports on Vancouver Island however, there’s been no changes, yet.

“We’ve been fortunate in that [Air Canada is] flying to Nanaimo, but at significantly reduced flights,” said Dave Devana, chief executive officer and president of Nanaimo Airport.

“If they started reducing their flights [further], then we’d have to reduce our hours of operation, then we have to look at potential layoffs.”

Nanaimo Airport, along with airlines and airports across Canada, are hanging on by a thread.

“Our cash flow is negative every month,” said Devana. “All of our money is going to just keep the doors open.”

Nanaimo Airport is coming off their biggest year yet. In 2019, half a million fliers landing there. A sharp contrast to 2020, where only 180,000 passengers landed at Nanaimo Airport — marking a 64 per cent drop in passengers.

Over in Victoria, it’s a similar story.

Victoria International Airport’s  passenger count for 2020 is expected to be around 575,000 — down 70 per cent from the year before.

As of right now, both airports are relying on the trickle of commercial flights still coming in, banked savings, and the federal wage subsidy program.

“We can probably be okay until September or October 2021. Then we’re going to be in a difficult situation where there’s no indication that there will be additional wage subsidies,” said Devana.

“And we’re not going to be able to make the capital improvements that we need to make to our infrastructure to support the airlines coming.”

It’s a problem, Devana says, every airport across Canada is facing.

A trade-off in the fight to survive, with the future still very much up in the air.

[email protected]

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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